Nature hasn’t been overly kind to women. Let’s look at childbirth: it is harder and more dangerous for humans than any other animal: the female pelvis is (usually) only just big enough to squeeze a baby’s big head through. And periods – or menstruation – are another particularly human curse. Most female animals don’t bleed at all. Then to further add insult to monthly injury, pre-menstrual food cravings scupper any well-meaning intentions to live a healthy life… Clearly someone upstairs wasn’t looking too kindly on Homo sapiens.
It is quite common for women to have cravings for certain food in the lead up to a period. Surveys show that these foods are usually high in carbohydrate (e.g. bread, muffins), high in fat (e.g. cheese) or both (doughnuts, buttered popcorn, chocolate). This desire to load up on calories is a consequence of changing hormone levels and starts soon after ovulation.
Ovulation usually happens at around the mid-point of a menstrual cycle – i.e. between two periods. It is when an ovary releases an egg into a fallopian tube. After this point, there is a gradual increase in the hormone progesterone in the blood – and this continues right up until the time of menstruation. Progesterone is designed to prepare a woman’s body for pregnancy by getting the womb (uterus) ready on the off chance that an egg comes into contact with a lucky sperm as it travels down the fallopian tube. But progesterone has other effects. One being that it makes the brain’s appetite-controlling regions go off kilter, prompting a longing to eat more. And as the progesterone increases in the run up to the period, these cravings get worse.
It’s unfortunate, but there is a logic behind progesterone’s effects. In getting the body ready for a possible pregnancy, progesterone serves to ensure the body is nourished enough so as to support a growing baby. Eating more is nature’s way of doing this.
Sadly, there is no simple solution to regular chocolate cravings. There are some reports of certain contraceptive pills helping some women – although the research is inconclusive. As a guy, all I can do is offer sympathy and support when the going is rough. And never ever make insensitive jokes or puns about pre-menstrual symptoms. Now that’s a solemn promise. Period.
Answer by Dr Stu
Image source: ? |_ ?-\ ? Ø, on Flickr